This story first appeared in the November print edition of Mustang News, titled "SLO County Voter Guide." Pick up a copy from a newsstand around Cal Poly's campus to read more.
Emma Hoffman is a journalism junior and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
I have seen enough ‘You should vote’ campaigns to last a lifetime, but none of them told me I should vote in my college town.
I get why these advertisements run, college students make up a major block of eligible voters, so it is important that I actually take the time to use my voice. My problem with this type of campaign is that they oversimplify the reasons why college students may not vote. College students are busy. Between clubs, class, homework, our social lives and so much more, we don’t always have enough time to stay up-to-date with some of the things going on around us.
For me, this meant that I did not know (until recently) I could vote in SLO, rather than my hometown in San Diego. I was intrigued by the opportunity to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak, to support some of the candidates and ideas I have heard mentioned so frequently.
Don’t worry, this is not me dictating who you choose to vote for or how you vote on certain propositions; this is simply me asking you to consider voting in San Luis Obispo for future elections.
The core of my reasoning is this: Cal Poly students live in San Luis Obispo for nine months out of the year. I know you likely grew up in your hometown and have a deep love for the people and places, but voting in your hometown election means losing out on sharing your voice and being an active participant in the community where you spend most of your time.
San Luis Obispo has a population of around 47,000 people, according to census population estimates. The census includes people in the place they live and sleep most, so Cal Poly students are included in this number.
Let me restate that: even the census counts you as a member of the SLO community.
The student body is more than 20,000 individuals, meaning Cal Poly students make up almost half of the SLO population. We are participants in the economy, we attend protests at the courthouse and we shop at Trader Joe’s beside the stressed soccer moms. We even celebrated the resolution of the Kristin Smart case that held the attention of SLO for 26 years, as if we were alive the year she went missing.
We should use elections to showcase the role we play as community members and decide what we want the future of our city to look like.
I am using this election season to reflect on my experience in San Luis Obispo so far. Since I am a junior, I moved into my South Mountain dorm just a few months after Tianna Arata was arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest, which brought SLO to the forefront of the national media. In the spring of the same school year, the city proposed a ban on tents in parks, which brought up concerns about the displacement of unhoused folks. Both of these events shaped my view of the city of SLO during my first nine months here.
Now, I can look into the ongoing aspects of those events (among many other key moments in city policy) and voice my opinion on how they have evolved. I have the agency to evaluate the people in power and affect change if I see fit.
That’s not to say that you have to look into those same events, or even approach this election in the same manner that I will. Maybe you have strong feelings on the way the pandemic was handled or you want to place your initial focus on the propositions. Maybe you don’t know where you stand on local issues.
Voting in SLO means that you have direct access to the candidates that you are voting on and your fellow citizens that you are voting for. You can set a meeting with a candidate, call their office or attend a city council meeting to really get a sense of who they are. You can talk to a friend or neighbor or classmate about what their experience has been in SLO to inform your decision-making process.
Making an informed vote is important here in SLO where the political landscape is especially diverse. The county has a mixture of Republicans and Democrats, according to the county Clerk-Recorder office, which means that each individual vote may have more sway than in your hometown.
Students living on campus are not technically part of the city, so their ballots will be based on the county. However, the range of political affiliations is present on the city and county levels, so students living on- and off-campus would be similarly powerful in this election.
For students who commute from other cities in the county, the chance to sway the votes is even higher. While the majority of North County is registered as Republican and the majority of the Five Cities area is registered Democrats, these margins are tight. County-wide registration data shows the margin in Pismo Beach is just 105 people.
On top of these tight margins, recent redistricting means that this election will be different than previous years, as representatives who were once easily reelected will struggle within a new demographic.
San Luis Obispo was once named the “Happiest City in America” by none other than Oprah, but that title is now largely used in the ironic sense and paired with a list of examples of bigotry. Your hometown may be incredibly important to you (I get it, mine means the world to me), but your vote could mean a great deal to progress in SLO.
Voting in San Luis Obispo for the midterms and future elections just may be a step toward making SLO the actual happiest city in America.